Last Wednesday, Mrs. Amina Zakari, the Acting Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) made a bold statement in Akure, Ondo State. On the occasion, she publicly disowned the April 11, 2015 House of Assembly election in Ilaje State Constituencies 1 and 2 of Ondo State, admitting that the election lacked credibility, in spite of the fact that the winners of the election were declared by the commission.
It was a statement for which the lady deserves the kind of applause her predecessor in office, Attahiru Jega often got when he led INEC. Zakari added that the commission would go to court to support an applicant who wrongly loses an election notwithstanding that the malpractice which led to the petition was the handiwork of its own officials.
So, INEC will not unduly defend its officials. We commend INEC for the posture and urge her to keep to it in all cases, because considering the numerous insider abuses in our elections, corrupt INEC officials should be put to shame by disallowing their clients from enjoying their undeserved victory at the polls. This would in earnest add to the credibility which INEC already enjoys as a result of the manifest good conduct of the last Presidential elections.
Both INEC and Zakari can maintain the legacy of Jega who though a non-engineer was only 3 days ago honoured for his distinguished service by the Nigerian Society of Engineers at its 2015 3rd Quarterly Dinner and conferment of fellowship on deserving individuals held in Lagos. Knowing full well that its officials and other agencies involved in the conduct of elections are quite often unduly mischievous, INEC must bend backwards to attain a positive disposition to candidates who protest certain actions.
One of such actions happened during the week when the All Progressive Congress (APC), governorship candidate at the last elections in Rivers state, Dakuku Peterside and former Senator Magnus Abe were tear gassed by security officials at the gate of INEC headquarters in Abuja when they came to submit their protest letter to the commission. Peterside and Abe who led a team of 48 candidates who contested the various elective offices on the APC platform in River state were seen on national television drenched with teargas at the event. Although this column agrees that INEC is not the place to forward petitions to at the end of an election, we cannot but condemn the violent way the team of less than 50 people was dispersed.
It is indeed simplistic to perceive the protest at INEC as the only improper thing because the cause of the protest which is the refusal of the commission to allow the candidates to inspect the records of their elections is a far more improper act for 2 reasons. First, in accordance with the law, the candidates immediately after the elections applied and got approval to inspect certified true copies and documents used for the conduct of the election which till date has not been complied with.
The candidates are no doubt at pain as it appears that, INEC is not distancing itself from those frustrating the due process of law by making it hard for those who have grievances to ventilate them. Second, an INEC with a free conscience does not require any legal directive to make its record open in support of justice if we are to believe the commendable speech in Akure referred to earlier in this article in which the commission said it would help society rather than protect those who have something to hide. It is unfortunate that instead of merely closing its gates to prevent entry of unauthorized persons, INEC allowed its security officials to tear-gas the team.
The Police should learn to be more discrete in the use of teargas and imbibe the same proactive disposition which INEC should have towards justice. On a general note, the police have no business stopping society from knowing about issues of public interest because everything that is done in a democracy is on behalf of the people. It was therefore against the run of play that the police in Lagos during the week barred journalists from covering the election petition filed against the election of the now famous Femi Gbajabiamila representing the Surulere federal constituency in the House of representative.
Apart from letting the public learn how the new majority leader lost or kept his seat, too many things happen at election tribunals that are of public interest. Indeed, the public can miss such developments like last Wednesday’s drama at the Delta State National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal when a witness presumed to be dead showed up in court. The witness, Christopher Anirah was summoned by the tribunal to give evidence at an election petition matter between the APC and PDP candidates. By letting the nation know from the proceedings of the tribunal that a false death certificate was reportedly used to declare the man dead, the media always make us realize the intricacies of Nigerian elections
Oh yes, it is not only the bizarre that the media exposes to the public, other serious issues such as the strategy of using delays to frustrate justice can be discouraged if the media exposes them. While a court has the power to allow or refuse media coverage, we submit that it is retrogressive to bar journalists from election tribunals. Of course, the police that stopped journalists from the Gbajabiamila case acted on their own or as paid agents because the current pragmatic boss of the police, Solomon Arase has made several moves which underscore the commonality of interest of the police and the media.
Last week, he announced his collaboration with the Sun Newspapers to organize a forthcoming summit on security. On the occasion, he said the police was in need of funds to undertake further recruitment. While it is obvious that the police have always been poorly funded in Nigeria and as such we are obliged to support the organization, some of its bad eggs should not waste their tear-gas budget on harmless protesters.